'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 26 September 2010

Author Interview - AJ Betts

Talented YA Author AJ Betts joins us with a wonderful interview on why she's obsessed with making up stories. Welcome AJ!

What's your story? I currently live in Perth, by the sea. I work as a secondary English Teacher, so I have to write at nights, on the weekends, and on school holidays. I’ve been here for six years now, after driving across Australia and loving the Indian Ocean. Prior to this, I’d grown up in Far North Queensland, and lived in Brisbane and the UK.

How long have you been writing? I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. My first poem got published at twelve. I was a poet for a long time until I turned to writing novels ten years ago. I remember loving the opportunity to write stories at primary school.

What genre do you write in? I write for older teenagers (15+) but adults enjoy my books too. I write realistic novels that people can identify with.

What other genres have you written in? Sometimes I write non-fiction, including a biographical story I wrote about my grandad, published in the collection ‘Lines of Wisdom’, published by Affirm Press, 2008. As a teenager I was interested in comedy and sci-fi – I was influenced by Douglas Adams. I’d like to try more fantasy and sci-fi in the future.

Why do you write? I write because I’m obsessed with making up stories and if I didn’t get them down, I’d explode! I’m fascinated by people and the strange ways that life works. I love using language to show an aspect of life that readers haven’t considered before. I love the endless possibilities language holds – it’s like weaving magic out of sound and symbol.

What made you decide to do a young adult fiction? I only realised halfway through my first novel that it was young adult. I really like writing teenaged characters because they’re interesting and I never know what they’re going to do. I love working with teenagers (as a high school teacher, I get to do this every day).

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? I think it was called ‘Evil Otto’ and it was heavily influenced by a computer game I’d been playing. Back when I was eight, I didn’t have the confidence to write brand new ideas.

Tell us a little about Wavelength, your new release. It’s a story about Oliver, a 17 year old guy who’s stressed out about his upcoming final exams. For study week he decides to stay with his dad, in Busselton. The novel looks at what happens to Oliver in this new place, and how it changes his view on things: his studies, his exams, and everything that comes after.

Are Oliver and Emma modelled on anyone? They both draw on hundreds of people I’ve met and taught, but they’re also influenced by my own experiences. They share my ambition and perfectionist streak. Emma probably has my sense of humour and biting sarcasm.

Why do you think slice-of-life fiction is so engaging for young adult readers? I think teenage readers identify with the characters because they’re going through similar experiences. There is a place for fantasy and sci-fi, but realism gets that little bit closer to the heart of real life.

What do you hope Wavelength will impart to its readers? I hope readers begin to feel what Oliver does at the end of the novel – that life is good; life is long; and that it helps to go with the flow. The more we try to control every aspect of our lives, the more stressed we become.

What are the greatest obstacles you've experienced on your writing journey? The biggest obstacle was initially my lack of confidence. For years, I was focusing on developing my poetry and prose, without the belief they should be published. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I got to really hone my skills without the embarrassment of putting something out there when it was underdone. I’m still learning and improving and every day, and I hope to continue doing so for the rest of my life.

What do you love most about producing books for young adults? Definitely the feedback I get from readers – it’s so exciting and reassuring!

What advice would you have for anyone wanting to write a book in the young adult genre? I’d say to write because you love to write. Forget you’re writing for teens – write for yourself. And never patronise your reader!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be? A teacher…but frustrated!

Other than writing, what else do you love?

Can you name your top five young adult books of all time?
The Outsiders
Lord of the Flies
The Hunger Games
The 10pm Question
Tomorrow When the War Began

Describe your perfect day. Cycling with friends, swimming at the beach, writing in a café, seeing a film with friends. Bliss!

What five words best sum you up?
Easily excitable

What’s next for AJ Betts? Everything! All at once! But realistically, I’d like to keep writing young adult fiction, and perhaps try my hand at children’s and junior fiction… and maybe adult fiction… one day.

Amanda is thrilled with the overwhelming response she's received over her new YA novel - Wavelength. She says it’s so affirming to get great feedback, after so many years of 'solitude bordering on manic obsession'. Read KBR's review of Wavelength here and learn more about Amanda and her work at her website.